The great thing about the baseball season is the surprises, and the wonderful surprise that is Ryan Vogelsong has helped catapult the Giants back into the NL West race.
When Barry Zito, the $126 million mistake, went on the disabled list, the Giants called up Vogelsong to take his spot in the rotation.
Little was expected of him. Vogelsong was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round in 1998, but his greatest contribution had been as part of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates that brought Jason Schmidt to the Giants.
His entire major league résumé was 10-22 with a 5.68 ERA. Most recently, he had been released by the Philadelphia Phillies and Anaheim Angels after short stints. The Giants had signed him to a minor league contract and sent him to the Fresno Grizzlies.
At 33, though — he’ll reach 34 in July — he seems to have finally understood what he has to do.
The Giants have won all three of his starts, though he’s recorded only two wins, and he has raised an interesting question for Giants manager Bruce Bochy: What will he do when Zito comes off the DL, which should be soon?
Sunday was my first opportunity to see Vogelsong in person, and he was at the top of his game, pitching a perfect game through five innings before giving up his first hit, a single to Chris Iannetta, in the sixth.
It was no fluke. He was mixing up his pitches well, using a fastball that was hitting 93-94 mph on the radar gun, with breaking pitches that kept the Colorado Rockies off balance. His command was excellent; he didn’t walk a
batter in 6¹?³ innings.
There were two long drives, one by former A’s and Yankees slugger Jason Giambi to the base of the center-field wall, and there was one hard smash at third baseman Miguel Tejada that literally knocked him down as he caught the ball. Otherwise, Vogelsong was in control.
When he was taken out in the seventh for Javier Lopez, who got Giambi to ground into a double play, he got a standing ovation from the fans. He gratefully tipped his hat.
Obviously, Vogelsong won’t pitch like that every time, but just as obviously, he has proven he is a major league pitcher capable of being a solid No. 5 starter. Perhaps Bochy can find another physical problem with Zito and extend his stay on the DL.
The season is only about 20 percent gone, but some patterns are beginning to evolve. The NL West seems to be a two-team race, as does the NL Central with St. Louis and Cincinnati. The Phillies are a good bet to win the NL East, but Florida and Atlanta, young teams that should improve as the season goes on, will be wild-card contenders.
The Giants and Rockies have another important series, this one only two games, at the start of next week. So far this season, the Giants have won five of the six games between the teams. It’s unlikely that dominance will continue, but the Giants needed to slow the Rockies after their fast start, and Vogelsong’s win Sunday was a big part of that.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.